Why is Wyoming exceptional when it comes to surviving virus?


Statistics here in Wyoming are incredible. No other state is coming across as “healthy” as we are, when it comes to this plague called coronavirus or COVID-19.

Out of a population of 551,000 people, we had just eight deaths, as of May 17. Out of 559 people testing positive plus another 182 who were probable, but not tested, we have just those eight deaths. And although these deceased folks might have lived longer, all eight were quite elderly or had compromising medical problems like kidney failure, diabetes and respiratory issues.

So far, only 16,219 people have been referred for tested — about 2.9% of the population. Two counties still have not had a single positive. Some 498 who tested positive are now considered recovered.

Why are we so much healthier than everybody else?

There have been more traffic deaths — 10 — since coronavirus was first seen in the state in mid-March than there have been COVID-19 deaths. 

Let’s give a shout-out to our Wyoming people who are pretty good citizens. Our businesses, churches, social groups and almost everything else willingly shut down over the past seven weeks. Our economy was devastated.

Few people predicted that the Cowboy State would be so much safer than the rest of the world.

Wyoming is a big, lonely, empty place with six people per square mile. New York City has 27,000 people per square mile. The Big Apple is full of crowded apartments and subways. It is a claustrophobic place for most Wyomingites. Watching the horror on TV of their emergency rooms and listening to the daily beseeching from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, well, it was easy to believe the world was coming to an end. This plague was coming for us, too.

Milan, Italy, has 19,000 people per square mile. Have you been to Italy? People there live long lives. These are truly the most loving and sociable people on the planet with many three-generation family units. Italian life span is 83.2 years. This compares to 78.5 in the USA. Watching the carnage on TV was awful. Yet 80 percent of the people who died in Italy were over 60 years of age and most had underlying health conditions. Was this our future? Back on March 21, it looked like it could be.

It was not. Most definitely.

Here in Wyoming, the hardest hit place for both deaths and positive testing has been the Wind River Indian Reservation. In our state, there is no group of people more family-oriented and more sociable than our Shoshone and Arapaho friends. 

They often live in large family units covering three or four generations. It is normal for the generations to congregate together constantly. There is a lot of love among these folks and they care deeply for each other. But that tendency created a potential for the easy spread of this COVID-19 disease. 

Health officials and Tribal leaders reportedly bought 6,000 testing kits and are testing thousands. They are offering some of the few drive-thru testing opportunities in the state and you do not need to be sick to get tested. You just need to be a tribal member. This is why Fremont County is showing one-third of all the positive tests in the state. One family had 14 members who tested positive.

On a personal note, my wife Nancy and I are in what might be called a vulnerable group because of our ages and underlying health issues. We have been in self quarantine at our house since March 19. Our children worry that we are not behaving. But we are. And we intend to continue.

The Wyoming economy opened up last week with some restrictions — people are recommended to wear masks, practice social distancing and use lots of sanitizer. Our people are suffering from cabin fever and are anxious to resume their normal lives.

Seems like some folks think we need to worry about the medical health or the economic health of our population. I say it is medical health and the economic health of the people. We need to take care of both.

Based on the current statistics, the shutdown of the Wyoming economy may be judged, sometime in the future, as a miscalculation. But what could you do?

I will never forget watching those images on TV of Italy and New York City. It was like we were living in the middle of science fiction movie. It was like we had been invaded by aliens.

Just think about it — the world literally shut down. None of us living have ever been through anything like this.

So, to answer the question posed at the beginning: Wyoming people really are healthier. Plus, folks here have been practicing social distancing since 1890. It was not hard to stay put, especially during wintry March and April days. Our Wyoming economy probably did not need to be slammed shut but who knew? It is better to be safe than sorry.

I am glad the economy is opening up and I can see much better days ahead. Two years from now, we will look back at these times in amazement and wonder.

We need to hit the ground running and get our Wyoming back. But let’s be smart and careful about it.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

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